Just as the University prepares to celebrate the centennial of the rock-solid stadium, its principal tenant – the Harvard football team – finds itself in the midst of rebuilding. The not-so-long-ago-team-to-beat Crimson lost a total of seven All-League players to graduation, including some of the most prolific offensive players in the history of the program.
Most noticeably absent from the 2003 roster is the almost freakishly productive duo of quarterback Neil Rose ’03 and wide receiver Carl Morris ’03, a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year. The irreplaceable pair tackled 27 school records during their tenure together, while guiding the Crimson to its banner 10-0 season in 2001.
Nevertheless, in seeking inspiration for the upcoming season, coach Tim Murphy’s company need look no further than the sound foundation of the stadium itself. Indeed, in returning 12 starters – including two proven leaders in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 and linebacker Dante Balestracci ’04 – Harvard has the building blocks for another winning season.
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On the ball
Coming off the bench for Rose over the past two seasons, quarterback Fitzpatrick hardly performed like a backup. The Arizona product played brilliantly in place of an injured Rose last season, completing 94 of 150 throws for eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. Ranked 11th nationally in pass proficiency, “Fitzie” isn’t afraid to tuck the ball on the move either, amassing over 520 rushing yards last season for five touchdowns.
With the departure of Morris, look for Fitzpatrick to spread the ball around to a host of receivers, including Rodney Byrnes ’05, Kyle Cermarosa ’04, Matt Fratto ’04, and James Harvey ’05. The multitalented Byrnes (the only Crimson to throw, catch, and run for a touchdown in 2002) averaged five receptions per game last season for 482 yards and two trips through the end zone.
On the ground, Harvard will look to sophomore tailback Ryan Tyler – the only frosh in school history to manage a 100-yard rushing game (120, in fact, in a win against Columbia). Starting fullback Collin Blackburn ’04 will add depth, experience, and size to Harvard’s running game. An inch over 6 feet, and weighing 230 pounds, Blackburn will be huge in creating holes and moving the ball.
Speaking of big, the Crimson welcomes the return of three upperclassmen to its front line, including junior center Andy Smith and guards James Bakken ’04 and Joe Traverso ’04. Sidelined last season with an injury, 6-foot-6-inch Matt Frey ’04 is projected to start at left tackle.
The 2003 football season
Sept. 20 @ Holy Cross 1 p.m.
Sept. 27 Brown 12 p.m.
Oct. 4 Northeastern 1 p.m.
Oct. 11 @ Cornell 1 p.m.
Oct. 18 Lafayette 1 p.m.
Oct. 25 Princeton 12 p.m.
Nov. 1 Dartmouth 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 8 @ Columbia 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 15 Pennsylvania 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 @ Yale 12:30 p.m.
Home games in bold
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After the ball
Anchoring the Crimson’s defense is linebacker Balestracci, whose 247 career tackles already ranks fourth on Harvard’s all-time list. Averaging close to 10 tackles per contest last season, Balestracci is on the brink of becoming the only player in league history to receive First Team All-League accolades for four consecutive seasons. A finalist for last year’s Buck Buchanan Award – given annually to the nation’s top Division I-AA defensive player – Balestracci was recently named one of the award’s 16 “Players to Watch” for the upcoming season.
The defensive backfield will be further bolstered by senior free safety Chris Raftery, who earned an Ivy honorable mention last season for his 73 tackles. And with a pair of interceptions and six pass-break-ups in 2002, look for Raftery to continue unnerving opposing offenses.
Harvard’s D should remain stout against the run, as well. Ranked 23rd nationally last season in rushing defense, the Crimson welcomes back a pair of returning tackles in seniors Jon Berrier and Brendan McCafferty. Together the two combined for 52 takedowns and five sacks.
Handling punting duties for the fourth straight year is Adam Kingston ’04. A former honorable mention All-League selection, the seasoned senior – projected to handle kickoffs as well – averaged over 36 yards per boot last year. Offensively, the Crimson will look to Jim Morocco ’06. Harvard’s lone experienced place-kicker, Morocco converted a 29-yard field goal last season (1 of 3 on the season) and made 3-of-4 extra points.
Rodney Byrnes is expected to return kickoffs for the Crimson – a task that averaged him a spectacular 25.7 yards per return last season – while Brian Edwards ’05 and Corey Waller ’06 will be asked to fill some big shoes in the absence of Carl Morris as the team’s punt returners.
The Crimson’s season kicks off this Saturday (Sept. 20) with a trip to Holy Cross. Last year, Harvard pulled out a nail-biter against the Crusaders, taking a 28-23 victory. On Sept. 27, Harvard plays host to Brown to open league play. The whistle blows at noon. For complete coverage of the events, including live audio, see the Harvard athletics program home page.